This yr, 2023, marks the centenary of the delivery of philosopher Jason Xenakis (1923-1975). A member of a distinguished family (brother of Iannis Xenakis the composer, and Kosmas Xenakis the artist and architect), Xenakis was a thinker whose interests ranged widely, overlaying subjects including logic, Plato, classical Stoicism, Cynicism, and suicide. He is probably greatest recognized, if recognized at all, for his guide Epictetus: Philosopher-Therapist (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1969).
With a view both to marking Xenakis’s centenary and to stimulating renewed research, this article will present a survey of the 1969 work. Some two a long time ago, John Sellars, reviewing A.A. 65). However its limitations, I counsel that Xenakis’s e-book represented a ‘voyage of exploration’ into the waters of what would subsequently turn into recognized as the ‘Philosophy as a Method of Life’ revival. Xenakis’s e book was not only an early contribution in respect of its content material; its model, too, indicated a living commitment to Stoic philosophy. As Pierre Hadot, in his rather more well-known work, The Inner Citadel (1998), was to engage in exhilarating depth with Marcus Aurelius, so thirty years prior, Xenakis had shared his pages with Epictetus: at occasions, almost in direct confrontation, however even at his most combative, deferring to the great trainer and seriously interrogating philosophy’s claims to offer therapy. Long’s Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Information to Life, noticed: ‘Only two monographs [on Epictetus] in English exist: B. Hijmans (Assen, 1959; restricted in scope); and J. Xenakis (The Hague, 1969; of limited worth)’ (Sellars 2003, p.
The paucity of Epictetan work in English for a lot of the twentieth century – noted, as we have seen, by Sellars – is highlighted by the truth that Xenakis’s studying, partially, represented a response in opposition to that of W.A. (This is not to disparage Oldfather, whose remarkable achievement deserves its own reassessment.) Lest this abstract recommend a informal or slipshod treatment, Xenakis, even at his most conversational, remained scholarly, knowledgeable, and – that most elusive quality in scholarship – unique. Oldfather, which had appeared in the 1920s. Epictetus, by Xenakis, was freed from the ponderous interwar embrace of Oldfather, and summoned again, larger than life, into the Woodstock period.
Right from the outset, in the book’s title, Xenakis engaged with the therapeutic facet of historical philosophy. This, let us recall, was a quarter of a century earlier than Martha Nussbaum’s groundbreaking remedy within the Therapy of Want (1994) introduced the tradition into focus. Thus, in his preface, Xenakis writes: Xenakis was additionally concerned with another issue which, in the work of students resembling Michael Chase and Gregory Sadler, has formed a front in Philosophy as a Manner of Life: an try to negotiate the twentieth-century divisions between Anglophone and Continental philosophies.
‘Since Epictetus combines curiosity in such questions as “What is the world about?” with logico-linguistic concerns and procedures, he would possibly serve to show that the rift in present philosophy between (say) the existentialists and the analysts is basically unwarranted’ (p. ix).
In each these approaches – treating critically philosophy as therapeutic, and bridging the Anglo-Continental divide – Xenakis was among the pioneers of the last half-century’s mission of contemplating the historical Stoics, so far as attainable, on their own terms.
That this was indeed revolutionary may be appreciated from glancing at one or two mid-century therapies. Princeton classicist Whitney J. Oates, introducing a 1940 reissue of the George Long translations of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, appealed to Stoicism’s influence on historic liberalism and US democracy as offering limited compensation for its all-too-evident shortcomings:
‘In the Stoics we discover a lack of systematic completeness, and a sort of rigour which often seems to advise males to curb and outlaw some of their most valued human feelings and relationships. Maybe this goes again to their inadequate concept of evil…’ (p. xxiv).
Turning to the distinguished classicist Moses Hadas, introducing Seneca in a 1958 model reissued, presumably as still present, in 1968, we discover this faint reward:
‘Derogatory criticism of Seneca is posited on the assumption that he’s a corrupted Greek; it’s fairer to look upon him as an embryonic Elizabethan’ (p. 5).
With defenders comparable to these, the historical Stoics hardly needed detractors, and to such a stale environment, Xenakis brought a breath of contemporary air.
His opening part recounts normal biography, as well as a potted history of the Stoa. Xenakis emphasizes Epictetus’s use of medical analogies, quoting from Discourses III.23.30: ‘Men, the philosopher’s faculty is a clinic; you need to not depart it in pleasure, however in pain’ (p. 6). Subsequent we find Xenakis describing Epictetus’s technique in a method totally relevant to his own: ‘Epictetus is usually uncondescending and an arguer, going out of his manner, as Colardeau factors out, to find somebody to debate with and, when unsuccessful, taking over both sides of the imaginary dialogue himself’ (p. 9).
Earlier than tackling every other of Epictetus’s themes, Xenakis devotes a section to the image of ‘Life a Game,’ as a unifying thread woven throughout.
‘His eudaimonism and his endorsement of suicide alike could effectively stem from a playful outlook on life. For, as I hope to indicate, when he compares life to a sport he does so in the final evaluation both to recommend that the point of dwelling is enjoyable and that nevertheless there may be an escape if dwelling is just not fun…it can be inconsistent to compare life to a game and reject both eudaimonism or the suitable to suicide’ (p. 12).
Xenakis attracts consideration to Epictetus’s repeated use of images of play or recreation: ‘Being in a crowd, being bothered, being on trial, going to prison, risking demise, and even predetermination, are all, at one time or another, stated to be in the “game,” or incidents in a “festival,” “holiday,” “fair,” “pageant,” “dance”’ (p. 13). Not of course that he was the first to draw out this tone, however for Xenakis the imagery imparts a placing unity to aspects of Stoic thought which may be thought disparate.
Regarding Epictetus’s give attention to freedom, too, Xenakis brought a new perspective, emphasizing private somewhat than the authorized freedom which had preoccupied earlier interpreters: ‘unhindered, unconstrained, unfrustrated, unobsessed, unneurotic, spontaneous’ (p. 16). So that to construe his typical use of freedom as an accident or an obsession is to misconstrue his foremost concern in life, in addition to his use of a term’ (p. 15). Oldfather had attributed Epictetus’s frequent references to freedom as relating to his gratitude for legal emancipation from the condition of slavery. Xenakis, by distinction, observed with vehemence that Epictetus rarely used the term in a legal or political sense: ‘He seldom means emancipation from slavery; on the contrary (see, e.g. IV.1.8-60), while his traditional which means matches in very well with his eudaimonism and therapeutic ethics.
The final freedom is to commit suicide. ”’ (Disc.III.26.26; p. 18). Xenakis goes on to identify unfavorable preconceptions about suicide as cases of impressions which, if assented to, can make a life worse. Xenakis discusses sections the place Epictetus appears to condone suicide, particularly the place a person’s life is wracked by anxiety: ‘”Why then,” he says on one other occasion to a man ridden with fears and inferiority complexes, “do you go on residing if this is the kind of individual you might be?
‘To reject suicide is to turn life for the unfortunate into a entice. 18). Must one compound the misery? Isn’t a miserable life sufficient? And this provides to the ache. This, as Epictetus would say, is an efficient instance of how a preconception (“Suicide is bad”) can cause or enhance suffering’ (p.
Epictetus’s very best freedom, Xenakis stresses, is to stay ‘unfazed,’ which is how he interprets the state of ataraxia:
‘Knowledge, then, has a liberating, as well as a healing power. Knowledge of how to write. 22). To be “educated” means to be a Stoic, and whereas the Stoic may be a polymath, he is before everything a person who just isn’t simply fazed. And what in harp playing? So too in living, it is data of learn how to live (IV.1.63f)’ (p. And this brings us to essentially the most central form of data in Epictetus, namely ability in living: “What then is that which makes somebody unhindered and unfettered in writing? Data of the best way to play the harp. However information (“education”) means here primarily information how, somewhat than data of facts, knowledge of the way to stay, as a substitute of information about life or oneself.
Characteristically, Xenakis commences his chapter ‘Logical Topics’ with a genial permission:
‘Whatever on this chapter (or for that matter in your complete e-book) the reader finds unintelligible or uninteresting he can skip or reread. For Epictetus logical idea features a examine of proof, implication, contradiction, types of argument, conditional reasoning, meanings, definition, fact, paradox, falsehood, fallacies, standards, and “measurement and judgment”’ (p. 26).
Xenakis examines Epictetus’s standards in detail, trying to discern what kind of requirements are key. 26). For the Stoics, logical studies have been fundamental, ‘useful in addition to basic,’ and ‘awareness of implications is as helpful as reality-awareness’ (p. He observes that Socrates’s example, as at all times with Epictetus, is relevant (p. 28). But, Xenakis emphasizes, for Epictetus, the applying of logical ideas to life itself is critically vital:
‘Clarity about logical theory is not enough. It must be supplemented by competence in reasoning, by the talent to discriminate between legitimate and invalid thought in the concrete’ (pp. 28-9).
Here Xenakis commences a debate together with his topic:
‘[Epictetus] wouldn’t deny, I take it, that ethical principles must be consistent and in consequence must rest on logic (or deontic logic). In other phrases, Epictetus would not deny that ethical concept presupposes logical concept, and consequently that it’s less basic than logical principle; somewhat, that it is more important than logical theory. “More important” means right here something like “more wanted.” If happiness is more wanted than consistency, then essentially it is extra necessary than consistency’ (pp. 29-30). Otherwise they could be useless as guides for conduct and even harmful, since they would be proposing incompatible courses of action, and thus would make for indecision instead of resolution, and for perplexity and anxiety reasonably than peace of mind… This follows necessarily, if happiness (the distinctive concern of ethics) is extra important than consistency (the distinctive concern of logic).
It is troublesome to overstate the worth of Xenakis’s practice of thought here, in figuring out key rules governing the Stoic hierarchy of concerns. His emphasis on Stoic ethical choice-making is one which has begun to receive cautious and comprehensive scrutiny, specifically in Jack Visnjic’s The Invention of Responsibility (2021). Xenakis goes on, in his intimate, idiosyncratic, penetrating type:
‘Happiness is extra vital than consistency even when consistency is indispensable to happiness, though I don’t assume that consistency is indispensable to happiness. Epictetus nonetheless might disagree… ’ (p. 30). I mean I don’t suppose that happiness necessitates considered any variety.
A careful dialogue follows of Epictetus’s resistance to the tutorial Skeptic position on epistemology. Did you ever “call a pot a plate”? The Stoics too, and even Epictetus himself (Xenakis goes on to level out), regarded some perceptions as mistaken, and spoke of ‘training perceptions,’ which surely implies that perception might be deliberately improved (e.g. at IV.4.26). With typical care, Xenakis provides: ‘Of course, if by phantasiai he means information of consciousness, he is true however uninformative, for this reduces to the tautology that what we already discover we can’t fail to notice’ (p. [I.27.15-20] – may merely miss the Skeptic point. The Skeptic viewpoint had developed in response to both ‘the Stoic thought of incontrovertible apprehension (phantasia kataliptikē [sic, often today rendered kataleptikē]) and Plato’s indubitable noetic intuition or mental beholding of essences’ (p. 33). 32). The Skeptic simply challenged the thought of the incontrovertible, not (as a rule) the evidence of sense-notion altogether. Xenakis means that Epictetus’s resort to ad-hominem caricature of the Skeptic – ‘”Who among you, when he wants to take a bath “goes to a mill instead”…
Xenakis proceeds to tease out logical concepts which are referenced – essentially, given the best way wherein Epictetus’s phrases survived – solely in schematic or allusive ways: disjunction and conjunction; conditionals; and the problem of self-refuting statements.
‘Epictetus renders the universal and categorical-looking sentence, “No common assertion is true” into the hypothetical sentence, “If a statement is universal, it is false.” “For,” he provides, “what else” does the previous mean if not the latter (II.20.3f). 38). This may occasionally not show that he was absolutely acutely aware of the import of his translation for logical theory. Yet others of that era, akin to Chrysippus and probably Sextus, so construed universals, or some universals, in a quite deliberate fashion’ (p.
Within the section ‘Nature and God,’ Xenakis stresses Epictetus’s conception of the world as a unity. 40). Xenakis has little patience with one key facet of Stoic doctrine: the significance of gratitude for an ordered cosmos. Society is conceived as an organism; the person is as a physique half equivalent to a foot (p.
‘Yet, can’t one perceive the workings of nature with only sympathy? To Zeus? For Providence? Evidently Epictetus begs the question’ (p. 41). Why ought to admiration and gratitude be required? Moreover, gratitude to whom and for what?
However his impatience, Xenakis gives a detailed account of the Stoic view of providence as expressed in Epictetus. Not that Epictetus speaks of the Devil’ (p. 43) – a strange gloss, considering how unlikely it would have been for such a Christian concept to have appeared in our writer. On the theory of roles, as in Epictetus’s famous picture of women and men having parts to play as if in a performance, Xenakis queries: ‘But how is one to tell whether or not one is playing the “right” function, or whether or not one is obeying God as an alternative of the Devil?
Xenakis critically discusses the Stoic views about animals, before addressing the inference of divine creation from the evidence of an orderly cosmos (pp. 44-45). He brings forward a key critique, characteristically coining terms, ‘cacodicy’ and ‘algodicy,’ to draw consideration – tongue in cheek, no doubt – to what the alternative inference might appear to be:
‘If providence is postulated as a result of some facets of nature are good (stunning, etc.), there are other features which are “bad,” and which due to this fact ought to prove the existence of malevolence’ (p. 46).
On this connection, Xenakis discusses, before dismissing, three arguments distinguished within the historic traditions: that evil is (1) (only) appearance; (2) non-existent; or (3) existent but essential for the existence of good. Clearly, not only the Stoics argued for a number of of these positions (and for an intensive and updated dialogue of Stoic views on evil, see Sellars 2019): precursors may be found in Plato, and variations not only in later Platonists resembling Boethius, but wholesale in Christian tradition.
There are indications, Xenakis says, that Epictetus doesn’t specific (1), and voices (2) explicitly, but (3) only implicitly. (2), Xenakis concludes, being ‘not very plausible,’ it is going to be (3) which is the most distinguished. Such a ‘justification of evil (a cacodicy),’ Xenakis writes, makes more sense than the same old formulation of ‘theodicy.’
‘For to justify is (amongst other issues) to make good or excuse, and what sense is there to excusing good? Notice, then again, that it is quite all proper to talk of excusing evil and pain; which shows that neither is wanted if it may be helped, that evil as well as pain implies undesirable…’ (p. 48).
Xenakis – a bull in the china store which is the two-and-a-half-millennia of ‘theodicy’ – warms to his theme with a volley of rhetorical questions. He cites the passages during which Epictetus describes the annoying features of travelling to Olympia to view the statue of Zeus by Pheidias:
‘”You swelter, you’re cramped for space, you bathe with issue, you get wet at any time when it rains, and even shouted at; but I fancy you set up with all these nuisances because of the magnificence of the spectacle.” However does this meet the objection? 10.5) – subverts the very factor he is anxious to prove, particularly that every thing is divine, all right’ (p. Not at all. On the contrary, the truth that Epictetus admits the existence of inconveniences – in Nicopolis or Olympia (cp. 49).
Xenakis has, no doubt, treated cavalierly both the Stoic position and the broader thrust of historic ‘theodicy,’ however it’s his gift that his sweeping brush often affords, at the same time, a penetrating interrogation of the issues.
One case the place it does not, is in the next section on logos. ‘Obeying Zeus boils down to obeying logos. 54). Much more so: ‘Logos in Stoicism can be susceptible of a scientific interpretation or reduction. Zeus is cause as a result of cause is deified (cp. Logos and hearth, reinterpreted, are metaphors for material rules or scientific presuppositions; for change, power, lawfulness, predictiveness, intelligibility’ (ib.) Whereas Xenakis usually argues fastidiously, if concisely, for his conclusions, right here he has failed to take action. Why ought to we settle for that Stoic logos and fire are to be interpreted as metaphors, particularly when he has begun by suggesting a scientific interpretation? Nor have we encountered elsewhere the notion that Zeus represented the Stoic sage, however the fact that Epictetus typically presents the god as delivering counsel. Aristotle). Cause is turned into a cosmic precept, ethics into metaphysics, with Zeus because the Sage, or Superb, or personified Ideal’ (p.
A clue lies in direction of the top of this section, the place Xenakis clarifies what he has been attempting:
‘To toy a moment longer with this challenge of “demythologizing” Epictetus and nonetheless retain recognizably Epictetan tenets, the role-analogy can similarly be redefined to confer with capacities relatively than to metaphysical repertoires, and thus decreased to a plain ethics of realism, which says that goals needs to be proportioned to capacities instead of to wishes and fantasies (cp. Perhaps III.23.4-8). As a matter of truth, in accordance with Laertius (7.160)…Ariston, a Stoic turned impartial, and the Cynic Bion apparently so construed the role-analogy’ (pp. 54-5).
At the very least now we’re clear: Xenakis seeks to ‘demythologize’ Epictetus. The extent to which the ancient Stoics themselves accepted (or ‘believed,’ nonetheless that is understood) conventional mythological accounts, as opposed to applying rationalizing interpretations, is a really advanced matter (see, e.g., Domaradzki 2012); and Xenakis’s ‘demythologizing’ project is unlikely to seek out express support today, when readers are trying serious engagement with historical Stoic metaphysics and theology. Here, at any rate, he has ceased to deal with Epictetus on his personal phrases.
Another section appears to affirm what Xenakis is making an attempt here. Under the title ‘Value Idea,’ he asserts: ‘Divinity Epictetus associates with value… He also thinks of god and the holy in terms of benefit… Males, he says,
conceive of no matter has the power over the best benefit as divine (IV.1.61). For wherever interest lies there is also religion (or piety, M31.4). That is why [when issues go incorrect] the farmer, and sailor and service provider, and those who lose their wives and youngsters, revile the gods (ib. cp. II.22.17f). In sum we must always remember this, that unless religion coincides with interest, it cannot endure in a man (I.27.14)’ (p. 56).
Xenakis, radically, concludes that Epictetus held Epicurean-type views about the gods as indifferent to human welfare; he thinks Epictetus ought to have gone additional, to view the gods merely as ‘ideals or projections, the end result of reifying attributes or wishes’ (p. No scholar right this moment would low cost Epictetus’s piety, which resembles in giant part that characteristic, in Plato’s account, of Socrates (a fact Xenakis overlooks). 57). Here Xenakis has imposed his personal preoccupations on his subject. But in the following sections, Xenakis reverts to a much more nuanced account of ‘protoconcepts,’ his helpful method of understanding Stoic preconceptions.
In Part VI, ‘Pain and Coaching,’ Xenakis interprets Epictetus’s therapeutic observe in an in depth and sensitive means. 74). Actions, in any case, identify the philosopher, who ‘embodies [Xenakis’s emphasis] a manner of life’ (p. 76). Like Aristotle, Epictetus recognizes the key function of behavior: abilities are developed through the repetition of proper actions (p. He sees the ‘negative training’ as separable into ‘preventive’ and ‘remedial,’ with the former more vital, as resulting in less want for the latter.
Xenakis takes what he calls ‘the Control test’ (i.e. the dedication as to whether or not a problem is inside our management to repair) to be part of Epictetus’s ‘preventive ethics.’ It is ‘designed to forestall disappointment and frustration by checking want and aspiration… One other perform of the Control take a look at is to forestall fear and anxiety’ (p. 87). As usually, deriving his point logically by analogy or symmetry, Xenakis declares: ‘If preventive medicine and insurance coverage of all types are feasible and fascinating, so is preventive ethics’ (p. 97). Additional:
‘If it’s admitted that unfavorable self-discuss, like “I am a coward, I’m silly,” does make a difference to how one feels, it appears arbitrary to not ascribe the same energy to lenitive [i.e. relieving] talk’ (p. 99).
In concluding, Xenakis notes the work of Viktor Frankl as bearing echoes of Stoicism (p. 127, though as we all know Frankl did not appear explicitly to confer with Stoic writers). He points out that the founder of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Albert Ellis – who had overtly credited Epictetus – misinterpreted the ‘open-door’ metaphor as referring to ‘life, quite than to freedom to depart from life, or suicide’ (p. Finally, he writes: 128). If Xenakis is right right here, this represents a relatively necessary misunderstanding on Ellis’s half.
‘Analytic and nonanalytic philosophy complement quite than compete with each other…[and as we find in Epictetus] can coexist in the identical thinker and moment of thought’ (p. 130).
It is hoped that this survey has conveyed a number of the detailed, stimulating, and unique flavour of Jason Xenakis’s monograph. While A.A. Long’s Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Information to Life (2002) has deservedly become our leaping-off point for the study of Epictetus, Xenakis’s e-book remains contemporary and virtually undated, a outstanding achievement in the prehistory of Trendy Stoicism.
Domaradzki, Mikolaj. ‘Theological Etymologizing in the Early Stoa.’ Kernos 25, 2012, pp. 125-148 https://doi.org/10.4000/kernos.2109
Hadas, Moses (transl.) The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters. New York, Norton, 1968 (copyright 1958).
Oates, Whitney J. (ed.) The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers: The entire Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius. New York, Random House, 1940.
Sellars, John, ‘Review, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life by A.A. 65-7. Long.’ The Classical Overview, vol. 53, no. 1 (April 2003), pp.
Sellars, John. ‘The Stoics.’ In T. Angier (ed.), The History of Evil in Antiquity, 2000 BCE-450 CE (Abingdon, Routledge, 2019), pp. 175-86.
Visnjic, Jack. The Invention of Obligation: Stoicism as Deontology. Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2021.
Xenakis, Jason. Epictetus: Philosopher-Therapist. The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1969.
Judith Stove is Assistant Editor of Stoicism At the moment. Alongside Simon J.E. Drew, she cohosts the fortnightly podcast ‘Soul Looking With Seneca’ at the Walled Garden.